Qld Premier’s Export Awards launch at the Tower of Power

I had a great time helping launch the Premier of Queensland’s Export Awards 2019 at 1 William St, a.k.a. the “Tower of Power”, in Brisbane earlier this week. Paul Cooper, Chairman of the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, and I spoke about technological and economic developments affecting exports, after being introduced by acting CEO of Trade and Investment Queensland Paul Martyn. I referred, of course, to the extraordinary growth in exports we’ve seen over the last few years in Queensland, largely but not entirely due to coal and LNG, with yearly merchandise exports having grown from around $50 billion three years ago to nearly $85 billion today. Add in services exports such as tourism and international education and exports are nearly $95 billion.

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Paul Cooper of the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre addressing the audience at the Premier of Queensland’s Export Awards 2019 launch at 1 William St, Brisbane, Monday 13 May. I spoke after Paul.

I told the audience some of the lessons I’ve learned working with successful exporters. For example, I talked about Queensland’s sole synthetic turf manufacturer Urban Turf Solutions, which is rapidly growing its NZ exports and looking to expand even further internationally. The lesson I took from UTS is that to be a successful manufacturer and exporter in Australia, you need to invest in R&D and in optimising your production process to ensure your product is as high quality as possible. For instance, UTS has undertaken R&D to test the water permeability and surface temperature in use of its product.

I also referred to a vertically-integrated NSW-based beef business I’ve been working with, and noted that one of the ways it distinguishes itself is by demonstrating the provenance (or traceability) of its product, from “paddock to plate”. The business has its own stud farm, feedlot and it has an abattoir prepare its beef under contract so it can sell it as a premium branded product. The Chinese market is hugely important and hence the business has an office in Hong Kong. The growth of the Asian middle class obviously offers huge opportunities for agribusiness, and the Wagner Wellcamp Airport at Toowoomba can be an important element of taking advantage of those opportunities. I noted that the state government has encouraged the Wagner Group to prepare a business case for an Agricultural Export Centre at the airport to assist in that endeavour (see this Media Statement).

Of course, I couldn’t have finished speaking without referring to the US-China trade war, regarding which I share the pessimism of many economists regarding its possible adverse global economic repercussions. However, I should note that, while the macroeconomic impacts are expected to be negative, it may well be the case that some Australian exporters can benefit from the US-China trade war. Scott McDouall, GM of Meat & Livestock at Mort & Co., a previous Premier’s Export Awards winner, said that Mort & Co. has increased its exports to China as a result of Chinese customers buying less US product.

Incidentally, I noted the current trade war illustrates a basic lesson of economics that we’ve known since David Ricardo, and which was perhaps best explained by Milton Friedman (e.g. in Episode 2 of Free to Choose), that tariffs can end up hurting your own country just as much as other countries. Thousands of US solar installation jobs have been lost and US soybean exports have fallen 75%, from $12 billion to $3 billion annually, as reported recently by the Financial Times (pay-walled, sorry).

In conclusion, if you export your goods or services overseas, you should consider applying for the Export Awards. There are 16 award categories, including categories for small businesses, emerging exporters, creative industries, and agribusiness, among others, so there should be an award you can apply for, no matter what you export or your level of turnover. As I noted in my closing remarks, given their large economic contributions in terms of value added and jobs, and in earning the foreign exchange that helps us all buy imported goods, our exporters deserve our praise and respect.

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